The picnic pavilions remain cordoned off Tuesday and their picnic tables are tipped on end, but picnic tables dot the rest of the park, not quite one per grill. Children splashed in the creek and kayakers paddled in from Little York Lake.
Near the large pavilion where Cortland Repertory Theatre normally had its summer shows, Megan Ruquet of Ithaca walked her dog.
“That’s so cool!” she said when she heard the theater and Homer Center for the Arts wanted to use the park as an outdoor venue for events. “If they end up doing drive-by theater, that’d be super fun.”
The Homer Center for the Arts and the Cortland Repertory Theatre won’t likely open for shows until Phase 4 of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan. Until then, both groups are finding creative ways to bring theater and music back to people using Dwyer Memorial Park in Preble.
Cortland County legislators voted 6-0 Tuesday during a Highway Committee meeting to allow both organizations to use the park for social distancing entertainment events. Legislator Linda Jones (R-Homer) was absent.
Clerk of the Legislature Eric Mulvihill said the center approached him about using the park for a drive-in concert 4 to 9 p.m. June 27.
“They have submitted a safety plan and some information on how it will be run,” said Charlie Sudbrink, the highway supervisor, who heads the department overseeing the park.
“They will have three different bands,” Mulvihill said, all local.
The organization will have its own sound people on hand wearing personal protective equipment and will use volunteers to handle traffic control — limiting the event to 150 cars.
The stage will be in a grove at the north end of the park, facing out to an open softball field, said Ty Marshal, executive director of the center. Spaces would be chalked out for cars, with enough room for 25 cars per row and the ability to open car doors.
“We’re managing this for safety,” he said.
Mulvihill said concessions will be offered, with people driving around on golf carts with cans of soda and bags of chips.
People are asked to donate to the center, but won’t be charged for the event. The park will also not be closed to other people not looking to attend the event.
“So if the public wants to continue using this park during that event, the public can,” Mulvihill said. “We can’t close the park to any other uses or traditionally that’s not how we would handle this. If somebody wants to go and there’s an event going on they simply say I’m just here to picnic or barbecue or launch my boat and do what they need to do.”
“Your input on this Charlie (Sudbrink): How do you feel about those parameters?” asked Legislator Christopher Newell (R-Cortlandville), the committee chairman.
“I have no issues with them,” Sudbrink replied.
Mulvihill said the center will set up a screen showing local high school students who will be going to college for a field of study related to music or the arts.
“Sounds like a good idea to me,” said Legislator Doug Bentley (D-Cortland).
The Cortland Repertory Theatre will host an event Mulvihill has dubbed a drive-through enchanted forest.
“The goal is to keep CRT relevant and on folks’ minds while their summer season is on hiatus,” Mulvihill said.
The organization will hand people in cars a booklet of stories when they arrive for the event planned for July 16 and 17. That car will follow a volunteer through the northwest portion of the park to stations set up with characters who will tell a story coinciding with the handout.
There will be a limit of five cars an hour.
“So that they have some control and can manage it,” Mulvihill said, adding that he is still waiting on additional details.
“So this is their only request for the entire summer — is this two-day event?” Newell asked.
“This is something brand new for them,” Mulvihill said. “They’re not sure how well it’s going to go over. This is kind of a pilot project. I think if it’s successful they may be back to you some point in July asking for your permission for maybe some August dates. But again, not really knowing how it’s going to go, and staffing level and everything they wanted to start small.”
At the park, Jean Austin of Marathon sat with Marty Rose of Oswego at a picnic table not far from the softball field, one of the largest open spaces at the park.
“It’s quiet, it’s peaceful here,” Austin said. “It’s beautiful.”
And if the act is right, she just might return for a concert. She likes Gospel, country and classic rock.
Mulvihill also said talks are still ongoing about a July 3 fireworks celebration for Independence Day.
“We’re still working out some additional details, so we don’t have a firm announcement at this point,” he said. “We do anticipate some fireworks on some level at some location to be determined.”
Managing Editor Todd R. McAdam contributed to this report.